Seminary XIV: Tom Brown’s IHR days

Last one in the current run of Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminars was on the 5th December, with Tom Brown of Edinburgh, speaking on “Life after Byzantium: Ravenna and its hinterland in the Carolingian and Ottonian periods”. I think I’ve seen Tom present at the IHR more times than I’ve actually read an instance of his work, and this is in some ways very wrong as his stuff is without fail interesting and entertainingly delivered, but on the other hand his presentations are always work in progress so they have a more human quality than perhaps the dry academic printed word needs. On this occasion he was mainly arguing that Ravenna, although never equal to its fifth- and sixth-century glory days as the Western capital of the Roman Empire, was very far from being a backwater, even once deprived of a coastline, and remained one of the most important and high-status cities in the area until the definitive eclipse by Venice in the twelfth century.

Otto I, from a manuscript from Milan c. 1200

I hadn’t realised Ravenna was supposed to be a backwater, it comes up often enough in the sources, but I was quite interested by Tom’s suggestion that its undoing was its own success in attracting the Ottonian emperors’ court to the city, thus breaking into the previously-untroubled autonomy of the archbishops. This is also the way the supposed ‘feudal anarchy’ in Catalonia is broken when the lords have to deal direct with the counts and thus concede that they are not fully their own masters. Lordship giveth, and lordship taketh away…

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